Denmark expected to change Covid-19 isolation rules

The Danish Health Authority said on Thursday that it plans to change rules for self-isolation in relation to Covid-19.

Denmark's health authorities expect to change the countrry's Covdi-19 self-isolation rules in the near future--
Denmark's health authorities expect to change the countrry's Covdi-19 self-isolation rules in the near future-- File photo:Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

The health authority issued a written statement on Thursday in which it signalled forthcoming changes to the rules.

“The Danish Health Authority is currently reviewing the recommendations for isolation in expectation of a change to the recommendations in the near future,” it wrote.

The health authority stated it will make an announcement of the changes “in the near future”.

Specific details of how guidelines will change were not given.

Under current guidelines, people who have tested positive for Covid-19 can leave isolation seven days after their positive test if they do not have symptoms.

If they have symptoms, they must wait until they have been symptom-free for 48 hours before leaving isolation.

The month from December 19th last year until Wednesday January 19th saw 617,913 cases of Covid-19 registered in Denmark. That corresponds to over 10 percent of the population.

In addition to the positive tests, many more people have been required to isolate due to being close contacts to the confirmed cases.

Business organisations and conservative political parties have called for isolation periods to be reduced due to the impact on companies of high staff absences caused by sickness and isolation.

People defined as close contacts to those who have tested positive must isolate under current rules.

Close contacts are people who live together or have spent a night under the same roof.

That represents a less stringent form of earlier rules, under which close contacts could also come from different households.

For example, children and staff in the same school class or kindergarten are now not considered close contacts but “other contacts” (øvrige kontakter), meaning they do not have to isolate but must be aware of possible Covid-19 symptoms and take a test on days one and four and after the potential contact.

In comments to news wire Ritzau, the Danish Chamber of Commerce (Dansk Erhverv) said that shortening the self-isolation period from seven to five days could cut Covid-related staff shortages at businesses by up to five percent.

A reduction of the isolation period to five days would be a reasonable amendment to guidelines, professor of infectious diseases at Aarhus University Eskild Petersen told Ritzau.

For children, the isolation could be shorter still, he also said.

“If (children) have been home from school for three days, have a negative test in the evening and again in the morning, then they can probably be sent to school just as employees can go out to work after four to five days in isolation and with a negative rapid (antigen) test,” Petersen said.

“It has been shown that you do not shed a particularly large amount of virus if you have a negative antigen test. It’s not a 100 percent guarantee of course, but it’s a good guarantee that you’re not infectious,” he said.

READ ALSO: Danish study concludes ’36 percent’ lower risk of Covid-19 hospitalisation with Omicron variant

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Why Danish government is considering more scope for epidemic restrictions

The Danish government must currently receive the backing of parliament before implementing major interventions in response to a public health threat such as the Covid-19 pandemic. But an evaluation by two ministries suggests they favour more flexibility on the area.

Why Danish government is considering more scope for epidemic restrictions

Under current laws, parliament must vote to approve the categorisation of a disease as a ‘critical threat’ to society (samfundskritisk).

Only when a disease or an epidemic has been categorised in this way by parliament can all  of the interventions available to the government under the epidemic law be brought into play.

In other words, the government must face parliamentary checks and controls before implementing restrictions.

Those interventions range from the most invasive, such as lockdowns and assembly limits, to less invasive, but still significant, measures such as face mask mandates and health pass requirements like those seen with the coronapas (Covid-19 health pass) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

READ ALSO: Denmark decommissions country’s Covid-19 health pass

The Ministry of Health now wants to change the existing structure within the Epidemic Law, newspaper Jyllands-Posten reported on Monday.

In an evaluation, the ministry proposes a change to the rules such that requirements for things like face masks and the coronapas can be introduced for diseases that are not only in the ‘critical threat’ category, but also for those rated an almen farlig sygdom, ‘dangerous to public health’.

This would put some of the restrictions in the lower category which is not subject to parliamentary control.

The evaluation was sent by the health and justice ministries to parliament in October but has escaped wider attention until now, Jyllands-Posten writes.

In its evaluation of the epidemic law, the Justice Ministry states that there is a “large jump” between the small pool of restrictions that can be introduced against ‘dangerous to public health diseases’ and the major societal interventions the government – with parliamentary backing – can use once a disease is classed as a ‘critical threat’.

“This jump does not quite seem to correspond with the actual demand for potential restrictions against diseases dangerous to public health, which can spread while not being critical to society,” the ministry writes.

The health ministry said in the evaluation the “consideration” should be made as to whether less invasive measures should continue to pass through parliament, as is the case under the current rules.

The national organisation for municipalities, KL, has told parliament that it backs the thinking of the ministries over the issue but that parliamentary control must be retained.

The Danish Council on Ethics (Det Etiske Råd) told Jyllands-Posten that it was “very sceptical” regarding the recommendation.

“The council therefore points out that a slippery slope could result if the restrictions, interventions and options that can be brought into use with diseases that present a critical threat to society, can also be used with dangerous diseases like normal influenza,” the council said.

The minority government’s allied political parties all stated scepticism towards the proposal, in comments reported by Jyllands-Posten.

In a written comment, the health ministry told the newspaper that Health Minister Magnus Heunicke would discuss committee stage responses with the other partied before deciding on “the need for initiatives”.